It’s been a magical first season for the Vegas Golden Knights, who already have won more games than any first-year team in NHL history. However, the Western Conference leaders didn’t look very dominant Friday night.
Eric Staal had two goals and an assist as the Minnesota Wild beat the road-weary Golden Knights 5-2 for their second straight win after the All-Star break.
Vegas was coming off an overtime victory in Winnipeg on Thursday night, while Minnesota was rested since its last game on Tuesday. The Wild carried the pace of play from the start, outshooting the Golden Knights 19-8 in the first period while taking a 2-0 lead.
“We looked like a tired team for the first time this year,” Vegas coach Gerard Gallant said. “There’s no excuse. You play back-to-back — everybody plays them. But I didn’t like our team tonight. We had no compete and we didn’t win 1-on-1 battles.”
The Golden Knights had won four of five coming in, including consecutive comeback victories at Calgary and Winnipeg. But they had a tough time responding when Minnesota jumped out to its early lead.
“It’s tough on the road when you get down early and you’re not playing like you want to,” said Vegas forward Eric Haula, who had a goal and an assist. “You give all the confidence in the world to the other team.”
Charlie Coyle, Tyler Ennis and Jared Spurgeon also scored for Minnesota, while Jonas Brodin had three assists and Matt Dumba added two. Devan Dubnyk stopped 22 shots to help Minnesota move to 18-4-4 at home.
“We like playing in this building,” said Coyle, who scored in his second straight game. “We know when we get the momentum right from the start and the crowd gets into it, we feed off of that too.”
Nate Schmidt scored the other Golden Knights goal, and Colin Miller added two assists for Vegas, which remained a point behind Tampa Bay for the best record in the league. Malcolm Subban made 30 saves in his first start since Jan. 19.
“Malcolm played incredibly well,” Schmidt said. “It could have been a lot worse.”
Staal opened the scoring with a power-play goal at 10:05 to put Minnesota on top. Defenseman Mike Reilly fed a pass from the right circle across the ice to the goalmouth, and all Staal had to do was put his stick down to deflect the puck past Subban.
Coyle doubled the lead five minutes later with a wrist shot from the left circle that beat Subban, who was screened on the play by Wild forward Joel Eriksson Ek.
Spurgeon scored the Wild’s second power-play goal of the night to make it 4-1 in the second period, but Schmidt’s goal cut Minnesota’s lead to 4-2 with 7:22 left in the game. When the Golden Knights gained possession in Minnesota’s zone, Gallant pulled Subban for an extra skater, and the 6-on-4 paid off when Schmidt knocked in a rebound off the end boards from a bad angle.
But the Wild put it away with 1 1/2 minutes to play when Staal was awarded a goal after he was hooked while heading in on an empty net. His team-leading 22nd of the season capped a night when the Wild took advantage of a tired opponent.
“We’ve got some veteran guys on our team who understand back-to-backs and travel and how it works,” Staal said. “If you can jump on them and be aggressive, it can really help carry you the rest of the way. And we were aggressive. We were in their face early, drew the power plays and then cashed in.”
NOTES: Haula has scored a goal in five straight games. … Ennis scored for the first time in 19 games. … The Wild welcomed LW Nino Niederreiter back to the lineup. He had missed eight straight and 13 of the previous 15 games with a bone bruise to his left ankle. … Golden Knights D Brayden McNabb returned after missing three games due to injury
Wild: At Dallas on Saturday